Drought has been a constant companion for Southwest residents for the last three years—and counting. In 2011, Texas set a record for hottest summer and driest year. Some farmers reported less than one inch of precipitation for the entire year.
Some recovery occurred in 2012 and 2013 but precipitation levels remain below average and the deficit continues to increase. Reservoirs across much of the region remain at historically low levels with some lakes at zero capacity.
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Despite the drought, some farmers have made decent yields in some areas, but even irrigated land has not produced to typical levels in many cases, especially in 2011 when prolonged heat and near constant wind pulled moisture out of the soil almost as fast as farmers could apply it.
Long term potential, say meteorologists, is not promising. Most experts predict the Southwest will remain in drought conditions well into 2014 and that the dry trend could persist for another five years or more.
Bryan Rupp, and on air meteorologist in Wichita Falls, Texas, says farmers and ranchers will learn to adapt to hotter, dryer conditions. Climate change, he says is real, and whether it is natural or manmade makes no difference.
Learning to adjust will be the key.
Here are some visual reminders of how dry the last few years have been.
1. Bare Ground
<p>BARE GROUND is all that’s visible over much of West Texas where cotton or grain typically grows in season. It’s a scene that’s been all too common over the past three years.</p>
2. Barren Soil
<p>BARREN ROWS are all that’s left in dryland fields in West Texas where not enough rain fell in the spring to germinate seed. Some estimates put abandoned dryland cotton acres at 2 million or more during the worst drought years.</p>
3. A Little Water
<p>A LITTLE WATER is all that remains in the upper part of this stock tank. Similar conditions have persisted across the Southwest for three years.</p>
4. Drought Ravaged Wheat
<p>DROUGHT RAVAGED wheat offers no prospects for a crop and no protection for parched soils.</p>
5. No Food
<p>NO FOOD OR WATER for cattle has forced many livestock owners to liquidate herds. U.S. cattle numbers are at a long-time low.</p>
6. Even Irrigated
<p>EVEN IRRIGATED crops have not thrived across the Southwest, where a combination of heat, drought and high winds has removed moisture almost as quickly as it fell or was applied by irrigation.</p>
7. Even Good farmers
<p>EVEN GOOD FARMERS have seen crops fail under multiple years of drought. Clint Abernathy, center, discusses the ongoing drought with Shane Osborne, left, associate Extension specialist, and Randy Boman, Oklahoma State University Research Director and state cotton research leader at the Southwest Research and Extension Center in Altus.</p>
8. Hot, Dry Days
<p>HOT, DRY DAYS have put pressure on irrigation systems across the region during the long-term drought.</p>
9. Nothing but Dust
<p>NOTHING BUT DUST accumulates in West Texas rain gauges.</p>
10. Little Hope
<p>LITTLE HOPE for these small, drought-stressed cotton plants.</p>
11. No cotton
<p>NO COTTON EMERGED ever in many dryland fields as drought took a toll on crop yields.</p>
12. Parched Pastures
<p>PARCHED PASTURES offer little for cattle to feed on.</p>
13. Without Rain
<p>WITHOUT RAIN AND without adequate irrigation, cotton can't make decent yields.</p>
14. Seeking Shade
<p>SERIOUSLY SEEKING SHADE. Cattle across the Southwest congregate under any shelter they can find to get relief from the unrelenting heat.</p>
15. Water Should
<p>WATER SHOULD be lapping near the bushes lining this lake near Altus, Okla. At 11 percent capacity, no irrigation water is available for farmers.</p>